Filipino painter Gig Depio curated the exhibition Diaspora at the Las Vegas City Hall Chamber Gallery. The exhibition depicts Asian identity and the westbound spread of Asian people and ideas through written and visual artwork by Asian/Pacific Islander artists William Bon, Sapira Cheuk, Ailene Pasco, Toshie McSwain, Nicholas Yamashita, Ross Takahashi, Andrea Walter, Laurens Tan, and Marianne Chan.
How did the exhibition come about?
I was invited by [City of Las Vegas Gallery Coordinator] Jeanne Voltura. I’ve worked with her since 2013 when I first sent a proposal to do an exhibition. … We’ve had a long relationship, maybe seven years working together on a bunch of projects with the city. She thought it was time for me to curate my show, especially for Asian Pacific Islander Heritage month. We had a conversation that was tricky to have because you just can’t invite a bunch of Asian artists into it. … Asians don’t normally identify themselves as Asian, which is why there isn’t a sphere of Asian influence in the United States.
Asia is a bunch of disconnected people from one region, but they’re not connected culturally—they’re very different people. … The only identity we will see is in a regional and graphic kind of way, so it’d be tricky to curate a show and say it is truly AAPI. I thought it was a challenge to create a show that would actually mean “Asian.”
Why the name “Diaspora”?
Diaspora is the scattering or distribution of people into other lands. I think the strongest example would be the Jewish people who went to other lands and established their roots there. I thought about what was the Asian diaspora, and it’s very tricky because a lot of it was coming from the West, pushing their influence towards the East. It’s easy to summarize or simplify the story that people just wanted to come to America when the reality was the West—the Europeans—came to Asia to conquer.
What went into choosing the pieces featured in Diaspora?
I ran into a lot of roadblocks and dead ends, thinking “Oh, my god. How am I going to put the Japanese together with the Filipinos?” I also wanted to include a lot of female artists; I wanted to make that little difference because there used to be that imbalance in history. I thought maybe I’d pick the outliers—people who aren’t so mainstream here in town because I think that captures what Asians are. We don’t want to be different from what you expect to be American, so we always try to stay quiet about issues. That’s the common denominator of being Asian: we try to blend in and fall into the cracks, and try to be as American as we can be and try to avoid highlighting the otherness of what it is to be Asian. I thought I’d maybe get the artists in town that are more hidden if you’re not looking, and get the outliers that are making strong work.
Can you choose one of the pieces from the exhibition and share the story it tells?
What’s unique about this exhibition is that I included a poet, Marianne Chan. Normally when you do exhibitions, usually you pick visual artists, but I think poets are very visual. If you concentrate on the words too much, it’s not going to make sense, so that’s why poets are very aesthetic. They’re less about literature and more about culture. … The title of the [Chan’s] piece is The Man at the Party Who Said He Wanted to Own a Filipino. It’s a part of this book called All Heathens by Marianne Chan, and she has recently won an award for this book. … She describes that thing we don’t want to talk about, how diaspora happens. It happens for a number of reasons, maybe economics, culture, or maybe some people just want to get out where they are. I thought this is the perfect diaspora centerpiece, and mostly why people are here.
What does it mean to you to have this exhibition going on during a time where AAPI hate is being discussed in America?
This exhibition has nothing to do with the anti-hate trend. It’s about celebrating the exchange of ideas that Asians have brought into the United States… I’m looking at the storm that’s forming and it’s always going to be a work in progress. I think this show is a part of that—to try and reach out and say, “Hey, we’re American, and we’re here and we’re contributing.”
Diaspora is at the Las Vegas City Hall Chamber Gallery through July 15. More information on Depio’s Instagram, @gigdepio.
Photos: Courtesy Gig Depio
This interview has been edited for length.